The gluttonous, jazz-loving character of Neil Connelly in John Lent’s So It Won’t Go Away can never get enough out of life, no matter how much he over-indulges his desires: “Drinking, smoking, sex: a man’s hands twittering, eyes bugged out in a desperate longing to be held, fondled, stuffed, stroked. Guzzling and inhaling things in a big grab against death.” At the same time, John Lent can’t get enough of Neil Connelly and his two siblings, Jane and Rick. Nine years ago he introduced this trio in Monet’s Garden. Time has not been kind to the Connellys. In Lent’s seventh book, the middle-aged and childless Connellys are all ex-alcoholics struggling with feelings of inadequacy and depression. They have survived their alcoholic father but it’s not clear if they will survive themselves--and their disturbing similarities to one another. All three find it hard to be intimate. All have addictive personalities. All have a keen interest in modern art and literature. All three are writers who teach about writing. Neil Connelly loves jazz and Lent is himself a singer/songwriter for an Okanagan jazz trio. Neil and Rick teach at the same university where John Lent teaches much the same courses. If that last paragraph sets off an amber light of caution, well, you’re only human. Philip Roth aside, most fiction writers who can only write about writers (ie., themselves) are sorely lacking imagination. But in John Lent’s defence, he’s had time to refine his style and hone in on what’s important to him. The short stories in So It Won’t Go Away are not plot-driven narratives. Instead they flip around in time, place and point of view, incorporating first, second and third-person perspectives. Lent’s dozen stories get as close to three-dimensional writing as is possible. Sometimes the reader is taken into a character’s mind as a child, sometimes she/he is addressed directly. Other times Lent interjects directly, positioning his characters like a conductor. Frequently the act of creation itself is explored, be it music, art or literature. Cumulatively, this collection is more than a series of literary experiments and musings. It’s like John Lent is circling his narrative, studying it from all angles. Each story connects to others. Along the way we learn about Jane’s inability to find a permanent partner. We learn about Rick’s long-term marriage to a woman battling lupus. We learn about Neil’s break-up with his wife and his own subsequent breakdown. It’s not cut-and-dried. Instead it’s all jumbled together, like a family that messily combines past and present and future at the dinner table. Along the way, Colette, the 71-year-old mother of the three Connellys, maintains her own balancing act: “...it was a matter of two landscapes: the one they were driving through, and another one, of words and names and instructions, that became a second version of the one they were driving through—a landscape of language and facts and details which she would store away and pull out whenever she needed it —one that was, in some ways, the most important landscape, the most real.” Her three children come together in an idyllic village in France at the end, and their deep affection for one another could well be the remedy they need to help resolve their problems. The narrator muses, hopefully: “Was there another way of seeing it so you could fall into it, embrace it…gobbled up by an equally voracious God?” Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with filling your lungs with spring air, devouring a tarte flambé, slurping down a good scotch, jamming jazz into your ear or fitting your body to another’s in an act of love. If the shoe fits, write it."—Cherie Thiessen
John Lent has been publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction nationally and internationally for the past thirty years. His work has appeared in various issues of: The Malahat Review, Event, West Coast Line, NeWest Review, Grain, Prairie Fire, CV2, The New Quarterly, This Magazine, The Canadian Forum, Matrix, Waves, Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review. He has published eight books of poetry and fiction and a book of conversations with Robert Kroetsch about the writing life, called Abundance. His last novel, So It Won’t Go Away, was short-listed for the BC Book Prizes in 2005, and Thistledown Press released a volume of Lent’s poems called Cantilevered Songs in 2009 that was long-listed for the Re-Lit Award that year. A novel, The Path To Ardroe, was released by Thistledown Press in the spring of 2012.
Lent has read his from his work in France, England and the USA, and has given Canada Council Readings of his work across Canada over the past twenty-five years, most recently in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria. He has taught Creative Writing & Literature at various institutions in this country for the past forty years, and has, most recently, taught at The Sage Hill Writing Experience and The Victoria School of Writing. He has been writer in residence at Red Deer College and a resident writer at The Wallace Stegner House and The Leighton Artists Colony at The Banff Centre For The Arts. His most recent novel, The Path To Ardroe, is a novel that has taken over a decade to write and surfaces from experiences Lent had living in Strasbourg, France, in 1988, and Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1995.
Aesthetically, Lent will tell you that he has specialized in exploring the narrative forms connected to the genre of stream of consciousness fiction. He strives for a unique, unprecedented intimacy in his writing that comes from years of playing with different ways to represent subjectivity/consciousness in narrative,and years of studying writers like Malcolm Lowry, James Joyce, Céline, Margaret Laurence and Alistair Macleod. Lent has published and presented critical articles on spatial form in these kinds of narrative in the work of Thomas DeQuincey, Malcolm Lowry, Kristjana Gunnars, Mavis Gallant, Wilfred Watson, Sheila Watson & Robert Kroetsch. Lent considers The Path To Ardroe to be a breakthrough result of all this work and hopes to reach a wide audience through it.
Lent lives in Vernon, BC, with his wife, the artist Jude Clarke, and plays in The Lent/Fraser/Wall Trio, a jazz and roots group. He is one of the founders of Kalamalka Press and The Kalamalka Institute For Working Writers, and though he has taught Creative Writing and Literature classes for years, and served as the Regional Dean, North Okanagan, for Okanagan College, for the past five years, John Lent is currently, and happily, retired.